Cullen calls for EI reform in January federal budget

SMITHERS – The Supreme Court of Canada ruling last week that the federal government was within its rights to use Employment Insurance (EI) contributions to pay down the deficit is further evidence of the need for immediate EI reform, Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen said today.

“It’s outrageous that EI contributions have been used as a slush fund to balance the books,” a frustrated Cullen said.

“Here in Skeena-Bulkley Valley, unemployed fishing and forestry workers can’t string together enough hours to qualify for benefits. They can’t feed their families and they’re running out of options and hope.”

Cullen, who has been working for EI reform since being elected in 2004, said boosted benefits and more realistic qualifying rules are even more important now that Canadians are feeling the squeeze of the global economic recession.

He repeated his call for an expansion of the EI program in the upcoming federal budget, now set for release January 27.

“We need to recognize the realities of today’s economic landscape and look seriously at eliminating EI waiting periods and harsh qualifying rules, as well as increasing the level and length of benefits.”

Cullen said it is unacceptable that the Conservative government chose to seed the Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board, the federal Crown corporation established last June to manage EI, with only $2 billion of the staggering $57 billion over-collected from Canadians.

The EI fund began ballooning after the Liberals brought in new rules in 1996 tightening eligibility rules for benefits. Auditor General Sheila Fraser has repeatedly criticized the government for the way it has handled EI since, noting a surplus triple the amount necessary and a move away from the intent of the program.

Before the ruling, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government had not agreed to return the $54 billion diverted from the EI fund. 30

Contact: Shelley Browne (250) 877-4142, shelley@nathancullen.ca